Reviews by Richard Bohan

The Ear in the Wall

by Arthur B. Reeve

While the poltical machine controlling New York City is making its deals with criminal gangs and Wall Street plungers, a telephonic device is in the wall. At the other end of the line is Betty Blackwell, who transcribes the plans and places them in a black book.

Now both Betty and the Black Book have disappeared, the the crusading district attorney recruits Craig Kennedy to find both before. Kennedy and Jameson, aided by a tough but compassionate woman detective start a race with Tammany Hall to recover the Black Book and to save Betty.

This is an interesting book, not for the technology, which is simply what was then the telephonic and photographic technology available rather than new Craig Kennedy inventions, but for the picture of New York and the relationship of criminal gangs and the political machine at that time. The book discusses the protection payments from the prostituion and dope rings to the police, the role of the upper classes in profiting from politrical graft, and the starvation of city services under he entrenched political power of Tammany. It also shows the qualities which make some of the corrupt politicians lieable even to thos who fight them and the mutual loyalty of the machine and those who support it. Particularly interestting in terms of the provision of city services is the harrowing (and accurate) account of conditions at the City Morgue.

At the time this book was written, the actual (teemporary) breaking of Tammany's hold, under a real crusading district attorney (Thomas Dewey) and a real reform minded mayor (Fiorello LaGuardia) was still a dozen years in the future. It should be noted that the real reformers, like Reeve's characters) also allowed some of their targets to escape to Europe.

This is a pretty good adventure/mystery. Reeves literary effort and presumably his work as a reporter, probably contributed to the change in pulic attitudes whice allowed the reformers to take control of the city. I would rate this about 3 1/2

Reviewed on 2006.10.18

The Treasure-Train

by Arthur B. Reeve

A railroad Vice President and and his chauffeur have sudden and mysterious seizures on the way to work; a family in New York city undergoes an epidemic of beri-beri; the American consul in the Virgin Islands collapses and dies for no apparent reason; a Wall Street speculator is apparently stabbed to death--with a rubber dagger. Who other than Craig Kennedy, armed with his knowledge of chemistry, technology and Freudian psychology could solve these mysteries.

This is another colloction of Craig Kennedy short story, most of them well up to Reeve's standard. The author goes a little beyond the practical science of the period (for example in his creation of a World War I version of a stealth bomber. But there is no doubt that sceintists at the time were trying to create such a machine, probably along the lines that Reeve inicates.

One of the things which strikes one in these stories is growing cynicism of the author. Thus Kennedy allows some criminals to escape justice, sometimes apparently on the grounds of true love, sometimes possibly on the grounds that a conviction could not be obtained. Thus a railroad president remains untarnished and a prominent doctor goes free. Murder, of course, Kennedy never pardons. This is not a bad collection with plenty of action as Kennedy thwarts spurious doctors, gun runners, fanatical pacifists and playboy lotharios.

Note to Agatha Chrisite fans. You might be interested in the title story, since Christie used the basic plot elements (her story involves a steamer rather than a train) in one of her stories a few years after this was published. Don't worry. In terms of plot complexity, lower level of violence and overall writing ability, Christie comes out clearly better in the comparison.

Reviewed on 2006.10.18

Penrod

by Booth Tarkington

This is one of the great books of all time for pre-teen boys. The author is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer prize. In this book he has managed to present the adventures of a twelve year old boy, presented entirely from the boy's point of view. That is a major accomplishment. Penrod is a boy--not a "good boy" and not a "bad boy--but simply a boy engaged in experimenting with his place in the world. The overall story has a gentle humor to it, interupted by a few slap-stick chapters. The fact that these chapters usually revolve some black boys who are friends of Penrod's has led some to accuse Tarkington of being a racist. This overstates the case, but as a novelist he was not above using current stereotypes to please his readers.

Reviewed on 2006.10.14

The Mystery

by Stewart Edward White

Stewart Edward White, who was known primarily as a conservationist and writer of westerns, and Samuel Hopkins Adams, who was known mainly as a muckraking journalist collaborated on this novel. Uncharacteristically for both of the authors, the story is a venture into science fiction and sea story.

There is more than one mystery in the tale, which seems to have been based on the story of the Mary Celeste. A naval vessel discovers a derelict schooner in the south seas. Everything aboard the ship appears and order, but the craft is completely deserted. The mysstery deepens when not one but two salvage parties put aboard the craft also disappear.

It appears the mystery might be solved when a survivor from the schooner is found adrift in a dory. The survivor gives an account of mutiny, murder and piracy, but can only hint at an even greater mystery.

A number of good to very good authors have given their attention to creating a literary solution for this mystery of the sea. This is possibly the best.

Reviewed on 2006.10.14

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